With college football still grabbing much of the national sports spotlight (especially in football-crazy SEC country), early-season basketball challenges provide conferences a unique chance to compete for early season supremacy.
Such was the case this weekend when the BIG EAST and SEC battled in the first BIG EAST-SEC Challenge. The three night event was played on campus sites and all 12 games were televised on the ESPN family of networks. Seven of the 12 games were decided by six points or less, including Louisville's OT thriller against Vanderbilt. The BIG EAST came out of the challenge with an 8-4 victory and brought a reminder that college hoops is in full swing.
"It gives quality matchups in good TV windows," said BIG EAST Associate Commissioner for Men's Basketball Dan Gavitt. "Early on in the season, that's hard to come by."
The roots of this showcase date back to the late 1980's when former BIG EAST Commissioner Dave Gavitt hatched a plan with ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan. At that point the upstart BIG EAST Conference was looking to challenge the supremacy of the long-established ACC and the ACC/BIG EAST Challenge was born in 1988. Enter ESPN to provide four nights of prime air-time and the first made-for-TV conference challenge was born.
It's important to remember that in 1988 there was far less television exposure and the four nights of primetime doubleheaders between two of the best conferences in America provided must-see TV. But after a few years, the Challenge fizzled.
As for this year's challenge, the BIG EAST and SEC agreed to expand last year's SEC/BIG EAST Invitational which was composed of two doubleheaders at a neutral site. Matchups were devised by ESPN with the intent of evenly matching opponents.
"We were very pleased with the quality of games in the first year playing on campus sites," said Gavitt. "And obviously the final results against the quality of competition our teams faced was very satisfying."
BIGEAST.org has video highlights of all 12 games of the Challenge including Louisville's dramatic overtime win over Vanderbilt, Syracuse's home win over Florida and Georgetown's upset win at Alabama.
|Date ||Time (ET) ||Game ||Network |
|Thu, Dec 1 ||7:00 p.m. ||Providence 76, South Carolina 67 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||7:30 p.m. ||No. 1 Kentucky 81, St. John's 59 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||9:00 p.m. ||Mississippi 70, DePaul 68 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||9:30 p.m. ||Georgetown 57, No. 12 Alabama 55 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
|Fri, Dec 2 ||6:30 p.m. ||No. 3 Syracuse 72, No. 9 Florida 68 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||7:00 p.m. ||Cincinnati 57, Georgia 51 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||8:30 p.m. ||No. 6 Louisville 62, No. 19 Vanderbilt 60 (OT) ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||9:00 p.m. ||Seton Hall 81, Auburn 59 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
|Sat, Dec 3 ||3:15 p.m. ||No. 8 Connecticut 75, Arkansas 62 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||5:15 p.m. ||No. 17 Pittsburgh 61, Tennessee 56 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||7:00 p.m. ||LSU 55, Rutgers 50 ||HIGHLIGHTS |
| ||9:00 p.m. ||No. 21 Mississippi State75, West Virginia 62 ||HIGHLIGHTS |